In 2006, AIGA launched AIGA China to become “China's
partner in design education.” We opened an office, led by director
Amy Gendler, at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. An
American from Omaha, Gendler, who speaks Mandarin, has extensive
experience in both the United States and greater China as a
designer and educator.
Design is an important part of any economy highly engaged in
global manufacturing. AIGA's leadership in design obliges us to
engage with the design and business communities in China.
AIGA China identity.
There are now an estimated 1,430 tertiary institutions with
programs in design (up from only 450 as little as five years ago),
with one million contemporaneous design students in all
disciplines. By comparison, the United States has approximately
40,000 communication design students—and many members worry this is
more than the design economy can absorb.
Although manufacturing in China is a robust economic sector,
there are still very few Chinese multinational brands. We believe
the emerging multinationals will create demand for leading,
user-centered design. And while many Chinese design students are
technically and creatively strong, pedagogy and society as a whole
are not traditionally driven by the innovative approaches that have
characterized U.S. design education for generations. Furthermore,
the design educators themselves have little experience in using
design in the context of free-market enterprise.
This has two implications.
We will work with faculties in China to help them adapt their
curricula to changes occurring elsewhere. This effort will be
reinforced by an online social network for students, where they can
post portfolios and comment on the work of others.
Our program in China will involve developing a comprehensive
directory of design programs in China. Through this project we will
establish a means of communicating with faculty and students, and
enhance our understanding of design education in China, even in
geographically remote areas.
AIGA's “Design Business and Ethics” series of brochures have
been translated in a Chinese edition to be published in June. By
widely and freely distributing this publication in both print and
digital form, we hope to influence designers in China to mature
into a professional community that accepts AIGA's professional
standards as global standards.
In addition, we will establish AIGA China Design Bridge in order
to offer opportunities for exchange between design educators in the
United States and China.
All of these programs and initiatives will be guided by an
18-member Advisory Board, comprising the country's preeminent
design education leaders. The board's kickoff meeting is taking
place in Nanjing on March 28–29.
Some members may question why we are actively engaging with
China while human rights are being challenged in Tibet or in other
contexts within China. However, AIGA's involvement is the result of
an effort to build connections among designers, educators and
students, with the express purpose of increasing understanding on
both sides of the relationship. Our common cause is great design,
professionally practiced. We believe that only through this
dialogue can an understanding between cultures be strengthened.
Just as many members would not want to be ostracized abroad because
of the official policies of the U.S. government, we should not
isolate designers in other countries who may aspire to or share our
values because of their government's policies. And so we welcome
the chance to strengthen international understanding as a means of
advancing our commitment to human rights, not in disregard of
We have received a warm welcome in China among both designers
and businesses, and we are eager to demonstrate the confidence of
leadership by supporting designers in China. We believe that as the
global economy disperses the demand for design to diverse locations
around the world, we must be an active, supportive, integrative
contributor in China as a way of assuring the role of AIGA
designers in the future.
Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers
and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.
AIGA’s chapters allow our members to form powerful social and
professional bonds through conferences, competitions, lectures and
Section: About AIGA -
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